Facebook Ad System Slammed for Privacy Invasion

Dennis Faas's picture

Facebook users and privacy groups have criticised a new advertising scheme from the social networking site.  Designed to net Facebook more ad dollars, the program plays Big Brother with the site's loyal (and growing) membership.

The 'Beacon' system is a partnership between Facebook and 44 other sites. Whenever a user visits one of these sites while logged in to Facebook, their activities are monitored. Certain events are then automatically posted on their Facebook news feed which can be seen by all of their online friends.

The events which are reported include online purchases, movie rentals, reviews written by the user, and streaming videos they have viewed. Facebook promotes this service to advertisers as "word-of-mouth promotion for your business". Firms signed up to the scheme include Blockbuster, TripAdvisor and the National Basketball Association. (Source: Facebook.com)

In theory, every user is given a pop-up message offering the chance to refuse permission each time a firm wants to post such an event on their news feed. But, it appears many users are either missing these messages, or not receiving them at all.

Moveon.org, a civic action group, says this opt-out system is inadequate because it requires the user to specifically block each attempt to post a message. They say the system should only ever be allowed when a user has specifically requested it, employing an 'opt-in' system like most other Facebook applications. (Source: Moveon.org)

Ironically, Moveon.org has chosen to fight the scheme by launching a protest group on Facebook itself, with more than 6,000 people having signed up so far. As well as complaining about privacy issues, protestors say the system has ruined Christmas surprises because people have seen what loved ones have been buying. (Source: groupnewblog.net)

A Facebook spokesman denied the system is an invasion of privacy. "Information is shared with a small selection of a user's trusted network of friends, not publicly on the web or with all Facebook users. Users also are given multiple ways to choose not to share information from a participating site, both on that site and on Facebook." (Source: Theregister.co.uk)

It's not surprising Facebook is trying to find ways to make money from its huge audience.  However, this most recent scheme appears to sacrifice the honest enjoyment of the website for the almighty dollar.  Something about that seems awfully counter-productive.

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